Cultural heritage inscribed on the skin

When I first saw pictures of Frank greeting some well-known Czech personalities a very traditional, yet unusual manner, my curiosity led me to contact him to ask a question: How on Earth, did Czech and Māori cultures connect?

Frank Tomas Grapl Junior is calling himself MāoriAvian or CzechoMaor (or for Czechs: Maoravak). This is a combination of the words Māori and Moravak (a habitant of Moravia, a region in the Czech Republic). In fact, Frank inherited this unusual blend of cultures. His father – František Grapl – escaped from the former Czechoslovak communist regime to the New Zealand where he became a music promoter. He fell in love with the Māori culture and through it, he met Frank’s mom (on the main picture), who originated from Rotorua. When I asked Frank, what it meant to him being raised by parents from two such different cultures, his answer was telling: “It means pride to me!” Indeed, Frank carries both traditions of his parents’ cultures wherever he goes, in what he does and says, and with his performances on stage.

Photo of Frank with his father, František Grapl. František died in 2004 at the age of 80, shortly after returning from his last tour with the Māori ensemble to Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Frank has been continuing his father´s mission of promoting Māori music abroad. He’s been travelling around the world with a performance group, called Whakaari Rotorua. This has allowed him to travel to Czech Republic and Slovakia multiple times. Frank remembers his first encounter with his father’s culture when he was 4 years old and he visited the Czech Republic. He was scared to death when he saw a devil played by a real man, during a traditional celebration of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6th.

Back home in Rotorua, Frank is leading “Czech & Slovaks Bay Of Plenty/Waikato/NZ Association” – an association promoting Czech and Slovak culture and gathering compatriots to visit different festivities, summer camps, film festivals, etc. The association is also taking part in different multicultural events. The “Waitangi Day Festival”, in February, where 6.000 people gathered to celebrate Māori culture together with 15 other cultures and the “Tauranga Multicultural Festival” in March are just two examples.

For Frank, Māori and Czech cultures are more similar than different in a lot of ways. “We share a great love of community and fellowship in common. Also, a lot of singing and folklore traditions are similar features between the Māori tribe and traditional Moravian or Slovakian village people.” Both cultures can also enjoy beautiful nature, mountains and wildlife. Frank wishes that the city of Rotorua, known for geothermal geysers, hot springs and hot pools, would become a sister city with Karlovy Vary, in Czech Republic, because they share these similarities.

Tattoos are a big part of the Māori culture, so I was curious if Frank had any tattoos reflecting his Czech heritage. In fact, he had the Czech coat of arms, tattooed on his arm in 2019, which coincided with him being granted Czech citizenship. “It was a tattoo I had dreamed of having for a few years and now it is a dream come true. I have two other Māori tattoos on each of my arms that symbolize hope, exploration, exhibition, new horizons, friends and family. Some of our previous Whakaari Rotorua performers also share similar tattoos of what I have on my arms as a symbol of our brotherhood and spiritual connection with each other wherever we are individually around the world.” – Frank said.

Finally, I took a moment to ask Frank if he knows about any Czech or Slovak places situated in New Zealand and learned that there is a restaurant called Cafe Berlin, situated in the South Island and owned by two Czechs, serving for example “špekáčky” – popular Czech sausages and “utopenec” – Czech pickled sausage. There are also community’ schools in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin where kids can learn Czech or Slovak language. Auckland Art Gallery has always a special exhibition dedicated to Czech New Zealander – Bohumir Gottfried Lindauer. Lindauer is one of New Zealand’s most well-known painters and is specifically recognized for his work painting the Māori people. Lindauer originally came from Plzen. One of New Zealand’s most famous and popular wines is also named after Lindauer. Frank’s father was not the only Czech who dedicated his life to the Māori culture.

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Photo credit: Frank Tomas Grapl Junior, and the last three pictures: Auckland Art Gallery

By Martina Hornakova, Founder of KITnDO

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